- Paperback: 444 pages
- Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (July 30, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1492389161
- ISBN-13: 978-1492389163
- Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 1 x 9.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 5 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,527,466 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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In Search of Certainty: The science of our information infrastructure Paperback – July 30, 2013
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About the Author
Mark Burgess is a British theoretical physicist, turned computer scientist, living in Oslo, Norway. He is Emeritus Professor of Network and System Administration, and originator of the globally used CFEngine software and founder of CFEngine AS, Inc. He is the author of many books and scientific publications, and is a frequent speaker at international events.
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Top customer reviews
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If you hold on till the end of the book, I can assure you that Mark will have taken you to all the wonders that science has to offer these days: quantum mechanics, thermodynamics, chaos theory, statistics, logic, cooperation theories, complex adaptive systems, genetics, immunology, economics and finally the science of information.
During this whole trip he convinces us that information science and the management of information infrastructure doesn’t exist in isolation, but rather must be seen as being part of the world of physics, like anything else. A world that we got to know in the previous century as one where non-determinism and uncertainty rule (think of quantum mechanics and chaos theory), and where determinism (Newtonian mechanics of cause and effect) is the exception. To make matters even worse, this determinism is just an illusion, an emergent property of the non-deterministic world of quantum mechanics. But because the scales of these two worlds are so far apart, they are only loosely coupled and as a result the quantum non-determinism kind of balances out when zooming out to the human, Newtonian scale.
The great insight here is that information infrastructure actually behaves non-deterministically. The reason for this is that we simply cannot plan in advance everything that may possibly go wrong once the system is live. As a result we cannot use the Newtonian cause-and-effect trick to impose our will to the infrastructure in a top-down way. (It’s ok if you don’t understand what I just wrote, I didn’t either initially. I can only suggest to go read the book and hope for the best ;-))
Instead, we have to start from the infrastructure (the dynamics) where we must consider each system as an autonomous agent that acts based on promises it makes to other systems or humans (cf. promise theory). Just like these amazing formations that emerge from “dumb” birds flocking together, these agents will then generate a higher-level behaviour in a bottom-up way. They will also be able to heal themselves from these unexpected errors, analogous to how our human immunology works.
The big message here is: decentralize as much intelligence as possible into these autonomous agents to get your infrastructure under control.
Now, if we really want to start building next generation information infrastructure we trust with our lives (as we trust things engineered from other sciences like air planes) and works in perfect harmony with humans we will really have to start taking into account its non-deterministical nature and completely re-invent it, including coming up with some sound scientific modelling around it.
Please note that this book is 10 years ahead of its time. It wouldn’t surprise me if the date of publication will later be corrected to July 30, 2023.
Mark's book tells us why it can be an even greater joy if we can persuade machines (and people) to work together to jointly achieve great outcomes. Humans are a successful specie because they are wired to collaborate. Promise theory helps us understand why and how collaboration works. Collaboration in turn is the driver of evolution in cognitive life forms; including thinking machines.
It explains that continuity in Information Systems is only apparent and comes from discreteness, thus deterministic logic can't be applied to model such systems. A new paradigm is needed: Promise Theory.
It's a question of scales (continuity at macroscopic, Newtonian, scales derives from discrete states at non deterministic quantum levels). Complexity and incomplete information come also into play.
It also explains how dynamics and semantics affect stability of systems, and proposes a kind of immune logical system made up autonomous agents that are constrained to some desired equilibrium states as a way to reach extrinsic stability.
I've found this book very interesting, both as a Physicist and as an IT professional. I, definitely, recommend it.
In my opinion, the author is a member of a very exclusive club. His products work at large scale. Knowing that, I tolerated a lot, and patiently read the whole treatise.
My humble advice to the reader is to skim some parts, like material science or game theory and look for hidden gems in the book. I found 6, but I don’t want to spoil it for you. I will only mention a low-hanging one here: dynamics tramp semantics.